MEDINA— Ohio needs more employees to fill open manufacturing and technical jobs, but first it needs students to understand the importance of technical education in the college and career spectrum. To do so, local business must provide more opportunities for young people looking for jobs.
That was the message U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, had Thursday in a visit to the Medina County Career Center, where he participated in a manufacturing and workforce development roundtable with the Medina County Economic Development Corp., Career Center leadership and local businesses.
Portman, co-chair of the Senate Career and Technical Education Caucus, said Ohio can do more to increase the number of laborers in technical fields, and career centers are key in bridging the employment gap.
“The gaps are clear. It’s coding which is, you know, it’s an information technology skill, it’s truck drivers … it’s machinists, it’s welders. … So many of the skills that are needed out there are being taught right here,” said Portman. “To close that skills gap, I think this school is really well positioned.”
According to OhioMeansJobs, there are currently 146,986 jobs available in Ohio, many in technical fields.
In touring the Career Center — he met with students from the precision machining technology program — Portman saw firsthand how students are learning skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
“My experience has definitely been a good one,” said Michael Moran, a senior in the program. “I get to learn skills that are valuable to the job that I am going to be moving to. Right now, I’m not sure exactly where I will be going, but I do have a couple places lined up. I am going to explore my options and pick what’s right for me.”
Moran showed Portman how to use a vertical milling machine, which has multiple uses. After viewing the precision machining technology lab, Portman viewed tools used by those in the automotive technology program.
“I came to the Career Center because it was the best opportunity for me to learn something that I could carry through my entire life,” said student Nathan Hudson, a junior. “My goal is to be a truck driver so this is just a lot more experience than I am going to learn at any other high school.”
Hudson said he found out about the career center through his father who also attended the school.
“Once I came to shadow to get a feel for this, I knew the moment that I stepped into this class that this is what I was going to do,” he said.
“I chose to go the Career Center and do this class because I actually like working on big semis and everything … and I think I’m going to have a fun time at this career,” added John Piskac, also a junior.
After the tour and the round table discussion, Portman stressed the importance of local businesses partnering with the Career Center and other schools like it to grow the manufacturing base.
“You want to be sure that the business community is saying ‘this is what we need.’ Then the school can help train people up for that job,” he said.
That way, Portman said, a student can walk out and into a job with good pay and good benefits and could even go back to school later.
While Portman said he supports students choosing to seek a college education, he said that some students do better in college after being able to work in a skilled field for a while because they are more focused and better off financially.
Portman said Thursday that it was his roots in business that led him to advocate for career and technical education. His father, Bill Portman, started Portman Equipment Company and grew the family business from a small forklift truck dealership with five employees to one that employed more than 300 people.
“I grew up in a family business … and most of the people there were technicians,” he said. “We have had a really hard time over the last 15 to 20 years finding technicians.”
In July, the president signed the bipartisan Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce Act, legislation he crafted with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, to allow states and localities to use federal Perkins grants to establish career and technological programs.
“I had a very productive discussion with the students and community and business leaders involved in this program, and I will take their ideas, feedback, and the good-work I saw here back to Washington because we need more like it,” he said. “I will continue my work on the federal level to make sure that Washington is an effective partner with local communities in providing Ohioans with the skills training they need to succeed.”
Medina County Career Center Superintendent Steven Chrisman said career centers and technical schools are viable options for students, pathways parents and community members shouldn’t ignore.
“I’ve been in education for almost 25 years and I’ve been in career centers all but two of those years,” he said. “I can tell you that the changes I’ve seen, just in 25 years, are unreal. The number of opportunities we give our kids to get college credit, the focus on industry credentials, the fact that business are so connected (with the career center)… We truly believe we are the college and career connection.
Currently, the Career Center offers students 25 different programs and is looking to add criminal justice for the 2019-20 school year.
Chrisman said parents should know that students “they’re going to get more education. They are going to get more training, it just might not be at the university of such and such … Its not college or career. It’s not an ‘or’ it’s an ‘and.’”